A U.S. Air Force B-2 Spirit bomber assigned to the 509th Bomb Wing, Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, flies over Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, Nov. 15, 2022.

A U.S. Air Force B-2 Spirit bomber assigned to the 509th Bomb Wing, Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, flies over Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, Nov. 15, 2022. U.S. Air Force / Senior Airman Noah D. Coger

B-2 that caught fire in 2022 won’t be fixed, Air Force confirms

That will leave just 19 of the stealth bombers, according to the service’s new force-structure plan.

The Air Force will permanently lose one of its 20 B-2 Spirit stealth bombers, after the service decided it’s too costly to fix the damage from a 2022 accident. 

“The B-2 is being divested in [fiscal year] 2025 due to a ground accident/damage presumed to be uneconomical to repair,” the Defense Department said in its annual force structure report. This divestment was not included in the service’s 2025 budget request, which was rolled out in March. 

An Air Force spokesperson confirmed the report refers to the B-2 damaged at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, in December 2022 after it malfunctioned while flying, was forced to make an emergency landing, and caught fire on the runway. The service grounded the entire B-2 fleet for five months after the mishap.

“It takes a while for aircraft to make it through the process and fall off of our inventory. As the report says, it is uneconomical to repair,” a service spokesman said Monday. Neither the report nor the service said how much it would have cost to fix. 

The decision brings the service’s B-2 fleet down to 19 bombers. The plane will eventually be replaced by the new B-21 Raider, which is undergoing flight testing at Edwards Air Force Base and slated to enter service in the mid-2020s. The service plans to buy at least 100 B-21s to replace the B-2 and B-1B Lancer.

Only 21 B-2s were manufactured because of the plane’s hefty price tag—about $2 billion per plane—making it the most expensive aircraft ever built. The already small fleet shrunk to 20 in 2008, when a B-2 was destroyed in a crash at Andersen Air Force Base in Guam. 

The news comes as bomber-builder Northrop Grumman was awarded a $7 billion sustainment contract for the program earlier this month. The work, which provides for “B-2 enhancements, sustainment, logistics elements including sustaining engineering, software maintenance, and support equipment,” will last through 2029, according to the contract listing. 

In addition to the B-2 divestment, the force structure report provides more details about the service’s plans to shed hundreds of planes in order to invest in new technology, like unmanned aircraft.  

The Air Force plans to get rid of 932 aircraft between fiscal 2025 and 2029, which will generate over $18 billion in savings, according to the report. Including the one B-2, the service wants to get rid of 251 aircraft total in fiscal 2025. Then, it wants to shed 293 aircraft in 2026, 235 in 2027, 95 in 2028 and 64 in 2029.  

But Congress is usually hesitant to greenlight aircraft retirements without a direct replacement, and it remains to be seen if lawmakers will approve all of the service’s requests. The House Armed Services Committee, which kicked off the 2025 budget process by releasing its version of the fiscal 2025 National Defense Authorization Act on Monday, has already signaled some hesitancy toward some of the service’s plans.